Hellhole Prison

The vilest deeds like poison weeds
Bloom well in prison air.
It is only what is good in man
That wastes and withers there.
Pale Anguish keeps the heavy gate
And the Warder in Despair.

Plenty of prisons simply content themselves with confining people, but some go the extra mile and actually try to break them. This sort of prison is an absolute hellhole - between the lack of food and proper clothing, the absence of light or sanitation, the sadistic guards, and the violently insane fellow prisoners, they hardly need the nasty looking torture equipment they probably have scattered around. Sometimes, they won't bother with things like individual cells - prisoners will just be lowered into a big pit and left to fight each other for whatever scraps are thrown down. Expect the inmates to be treated like animals, and expect most of them to act like animals as well. Indeed, being thrown to the prisoners might be used as a punishment just like being thrown to the lions, and jailers in such places occasionally suffer Karmic Death that way too.

Alternatively, especially in the future settings, the prison might not be a barbaric pit where only the strongest survive. Instead, it will be a Cyberpunk nightmare where every action is monitored, any step out of line is equated with an attempt to escape and punished accordingly, and there is one, if not several, Mad Scientist(s) who regard the prisoners as nothing more than guinea pigs for their immoral experiments. Of course, the worst of prisons might well mix and match the elements outlined above, resulting in something like a Nazi concentration camp turned Up to Eleven.

Story-wise, this sort of prison will often get heroes thrown into it, so that the hero can demonstrate their inherent hero-ness by refusing to be defeated by the prison. It may also serve to toughen them up for the next part of the plot (since pretty much any story with a prison as a setting involves a Great Escape as the plot). Other times, it will just serve as a Fate Worse Than Death which the hero must fight to avoid.

A prison like this will often also be The Alcatraz or a Tailor-Made Prison, but those are defined by the difficulty of escape rather than the conditions - some of those prisons can actually be quite nice. Related to Bedlam House.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Prison School the main characters have to spend one month in their highschool's prison for getting caught peeping in the girls' bath. The prison cells are very dirty, the boys have to do a lot of hard labor and their prison guards, members of the school's student council punish them liberally. Despite all this Kiyoshi notes that it's only taken a few days for them to get used to their prison life. They still take their classes, though through a monitor, and they get the same food as the rest of the students. Unfortunately, it goes back to being a Hellhole Prison after Kiyoshi's breakout as the student council are more strict on the boys and manipulate the boys into getting themselves in trouble so they can be expelled from school.
  • Impel Down in One Piece may be the worst prison in fiction. The warden is a Poisonous Person who is not at all averse to killing prisoners with his powers (and is one of the few characters who's handed Luffy his ass), and he has a staff of Badass Normals (including one Vice-Warden and devilish beasts and guards) under his command. There is also a literal evocation of hell, down to the horns on most of the higher staff. But the layout of the prison is the real nail in the coffin.
    • It is so bad that it's literally called hell. Level One is Crimson Hell, where prisoners are forced to walk through fields of razor-sharp grass and trees, thus dyeing them red with their blood; Level Two is Wild Beast Hell where wild beasts roam the floors, and the prisoners are forced to flee from them; Level Three is Starvation Hell, a desert-like environment where prisoners are kept in a near-death state of starvation…and the sand on the level is from the prisoners that have succumbed to death; Level Four is Blazing Hell, where the prisoners are forced to labor and endure torture at boiling temperatures; Level Five is Freezing Hell, where the prisoners are kept in subzero temperatures with food practically inedible due to said temperatures; and Level Six is Eternal Hell, reserved only for the worst of the worst criminals, its existence unknown to the general public. The criminals on the lowest level are erased from history…but due to them being so powerful, it's the only level that's like a standard prison, as torture would be wasted on them.
      • So, when Luffy told Ace that You Are Worth Hell, he meant it.
      • In spite of the above, however, it's been shown that even THEY have standards; former Chief Jailer Shiliew of the Rain was an Ax-Crazy maniac. As stated above, warden Magellan wasn't opposed to killing criminals, but he only did it if he was provoked. Shiliew went on rampages killing prisoners just out of sadistic pleasure, and it got so bad that Magellan locked him up in Level Six.
  • Deadman Wonderland, through and through.
  • Bleach has the Nest of Maggots which, at first glance, seems more drab than anything. The prisoners are even allowed to mingle in the main chamber with little supervision. However, the stress of being imprisoned for who knows how many centuries in a dark hole in the ground is enough to drive many Shinigami insane.
  • Honey Prison in Toriko is where people who committed food related crimes are sentenced. Since this is a world where food is even more Serious Business than it is in real life, it's a pretty horrible place. The lightest punishment is having your sense of taste altered so you can't taste your favorite foods. In real life that would be cruel and unusual punishment. Harsher punishments include starvation, dehydration, being fed nothing but poisonous dishes, culminating in being chopped up and fed to the local wildlife.

    Comic Books 
  • Such a prison plays a major role in the first cycle of the French comic Balade au bout du monde. It's a medieval prison in the 20th century.
  • Peña Duro, the prison where Batman foe Bane was born and raised.
  • Fort Charlotte, the Union POW camp Jonah was confined to in Jonah Hex.
  • Space prison "Thinktwice" in Doctor Who Magazine. Its population is kept docile through memory-wiping, which leaves them with no sense of identity to fuel any kind of resistance. The Warden enjoys acting like some kind of Family Values Villain, but is transparently a sadist and control freak.
  • The punishment for judges found guilty of corruption in Judge Dredd is twenty years of hard labor on Titan. The guards take pleasure in personally tormenting each inmate, and they're subjected to severe Body Horror so that they can survive in the frozen vacuum of the moon without space suits.

     Fan Works 

  • Midnight Express. Never, ever, ever try to smuggle hash out of Turkey!
  • The House of Particular Individuals in Idiocracy. Filthy and overcrowded conditions, inmates are fed slop poured in from a funnel, and large, overweight prisoners establish dominance by sitting on smaller ones. Fortunately for the hero, the guards are so stupid you can escape simply by telling them you're supposed to be getting out of prison.
  • The prison in the 2008 film Hunger which is based upon the 1981 Irish hunger strike. The IRA prisoners, refusing to conform to the prison's rules, are forced to live naked, routinely beaten, forcibly searched in all orifices, and beaten some more.
  • "The Pit", the foreign prison in which Talia was born and raised in The Dark Knight Rises is a literal hole: a giant pit into which prisoners thrown. What makes it especially terrible is that there aren't even any guards; the prisoners can walk out any time they want...if they can make it to the rim of the pit. But in all of known history, only one has ever managed it.
    Bane: There's a reason why this prison is the worst hell on earth... Hope. Every man who has ventured here over the centuries has looked up to the light and imagined climbing to freedom. So easy... So simple... And like shipwrecked men turning to sea water from uncontrollable thirst, many have died trying. I learned here that there can be no true despair without hope.
  • The Chronicles of Riddick has Crematoria, where the (Russian) guards occasionally release mutant dogs to eat anyone who's not quick enough to get out of the way. Oh, and the guards don't bother keeping the prisoners in line. They're up there in their rooms above the prison and never come down. See also the video game example below.
  • The Good, the Bad and the Ugly has an infamous sequence where Blondie and Tuco are captured by Union soldiers and brought to a particularly nasty camp. What follows soon after is the brutal torture of Tuco by Angel Eyes and another soldier- okay, in this case they want information, but he openly admits that "the talking won't save you" (in other words, he tortured Tuco even further after he'd told him everything). To make matters worse, it's heavily implied that this is a normal occurrence in the camp, and most of the prisoners probably didn't even have information worth torturing them for. Fortunately, Blondie gets out of there quickly before anything can happen to him.
    • To make it even more depressing, they're actually going entirely against regulations- the commandant actually does want the prisoners treated fairly, but he's powerless to stop them because he's dying from gangrene.
  • Alien³ gets in on the act with Fiorina-161, a/k/a 'Fury', a maximum-security prison world with no weapons of any kind because without a functioning starship escape is impossible anyway. The wardens as a result are nearly powerless against the apocalyptic cult that has gained control over the population, to say nothing of the Xenomorph that hitchhiked aboard the escape pod from the Sulaco. Interestingly it actually was a better prison in the past when it was properly staffed before Weyland-Yutani abandoned it; a facility built for 3,000 inmates has been reduced to housing 20 inmates with a 3-man staff.
    Ripley: This is a maximum security prison, and you have no weapons of any kind???
    Andrews: We have some carving knives in the abattoir, a few more in the mess hall. Some fire axes scattered about the place - nothing terribly formidable.
    Ripley: That's all?
    Andrews: We're on the honor system.
    Ripley: Then we're fucked!
  • In Death Race and Death Race 2, Terminal Island is just a regular supermax. Sure, there's Death Race, but prisoners volunteer for that (well, in most cases). Kalahari Prison in Death Race 3 however, is in the middle of the desert and has stone age conditions. The heat alone is maddening, but the guards keep hyenas as guard dogs, and prisoners work backbreaking hours in a mine.
  • The Shawshank Redemption: After allegedly killing his wife along with her boyfriend after he catches her cheating on him, Andy Dufresne is sentenced to two life sentences at Shawshank Redemption, where he encounters a gang of prison rapists known as "The Sisters", the vicious leader of the prison guards Captain Hadley, and the corrupt warden Samuel Norton who wishes to use him to embezzle money. Fortunately, Andy manages to gradually improve Shawshank as the film goes on.
  • The convicts in Mad Dog Morgan and The Outlaw Michael Howe are transported to Australia in a cramped, hot and filthy prison hulk. Similarly, there are scenes in Ned Kelly, Van Diemens Land, and Captain Thunderbolt featuring prisoners working in chain gangs.

  • In Five Years To Freedom, most of the prison camps that the Vietcong keep Rowe and his fellow Marines in are this way. In fact, he sees several of his friends die because of how brutal the prison conditions are.
  • Furnace Prison from Escape from Furnace.
  • Azkaban in Harry Potter qualifies — it doesn't sound as scary on a physical level, but it's described as being emotional torture because of the Dementors being the guards, sucking all positive thoughts and emotions and forcing the inmates to endlessly relive their worst memories. One of the early signs that the Wizarding World isn't as nice as it might've looked from the beginning. Word of God says conditions improve post-series after the Dementors are removed.
  • The Ministry of Love from 1984 is very much one of these. And that's before we get to see what goes on in Room 101.
  • The Chateau d'If, where Edmond Dantes is thrown following his betrayal by Fernand Mondego in The Count of Monte Cristo.
  • Khayon calls the Eye of Terror a prison for traitors in Black Legion, saying that the Imperium can just thrown their heretics in and forget about them, as Warp and daemons take care of them. Bonus points for being literal hellhole.
  • Ysanne Isard's Lusankya has a facility to torture and brainwash people into Manchurian Agents, but there's also a prison where she sends them to recover along with all her other prisoners. It's relatively mild as evil prisons go, but they get rockbreaking duty and the guards regularly shoot new prisoners to cow them. They shoot on stun settings, yes, but that's not exactly pleasant.
    • Worth noting is that Michael Stackpole named it the Lusankya in order to evoke memories of the real-world Lubyanka prison.
  • The frontier quarters in Martín Fierro are this: the army accomplishes a punitive function there, and it's a convenient way to get rid of gauchos.
  • The Mexican prison that John Grady and his friend are thrown into in All The Pretty Horses.
  • In the Vorkosigan Saga short story "Borders of Infinity", the Dagoola IV prison camp is designed to be as bad as possible without violating galactic law on the treatment of prisoners of war. Due to egregious Loophole Abuse, the camp has continuous illumination, riots twice daily over food distribution, frequent Prison Rape and non-existant medical care.
  • In Dune, the entire planet of Salusa Secundus functions as a hell-world prison for Emperor Shaddam IV; and it is described as having a 60% mortality rate for new prisoners. The emperor recruits those tough enough to survive it for his uber-elite and highly feared Sardaukar troops. The Fremen also view Arrakis like this on a more religious level — "God created Arrakis to train the Faithful" — and conditions are similarly harsh.
  • Honor Harrington has the prison planet Hades, more commonly called "Hell." The climate is dreadful, the native life inedible (but the local fauna haven't figured out that they can't eat people) and if the guards decide that one of the small prison camps spread around on its surface is getting too uppity, they just stop delivering food to it.
  • The hulks in the Matthew Hawkwood novel Rapscallion. Truth in Television.
  • The titular prison in Incarceron. Making it worse is that it's sentient and fully aware of what it's doing to people.
  • In It Can't Happen Here, the concentration camps created by the Windrip regime are hellish. Trianon was a filthy, crowded, miserable prison where guards tortured detainee with whippings and castor oil force-feeding.
  • In his biography Dwayne "Dog" Chapman talks about the Mexican prison he, his partner, and his son were thrown into while on the hunt for convicted millionaire rapist Andrew Luster. Apart from fearing that they would be killed as gringos in a latino prison, the guards made things all the worse by throwing buckets of sugar water into each of their cells in order to attract an already insanely huge swarm of flies.
  • In Shogun, John Blackthorne ends up in such a prison. The prison is described as a room, where dozens of men are all stripped to their undergarments. The floor is covered in filth, the air is hot with a terrible stench and the men themselves only have enough room to stand in very close proximity, with those who lie down being too sick and near death to stand. Sick men die during the night and the rest are willing to kill each other for a bowl of rice. Its enough to drive Blackthorne into a Heroic BSOD.
  • The Yeerk Pool in Animorphs is like this, as the hosts are imprisoned in cages and scream for help while their yeerks swim in the pool.
  • Oscar Wilde's lengthy poem, The Ballad of Reading Gaol details the horrors he experienced during his imprisonment in the titular establishment. He writes of the inedible food, back-breaking hard labor, and crushing misery that makes prisoners worse instead of rehabilitating them.
  • The Eyrie in A Song of Ice and Fire has cells with three walls and slightly sloped floors, presided over by a sadistic brute. Where the fourth wall would be is empty space over a several hundred foot drop. When Tyrion angers his captor she commands that he be sent back to a cell with a more steeply sloped floor.
    • Sweetsisterr has cells that are halfway below high tide, so the prisoner has to keep their head above water and gets drenched.
    • King's Landing has cells of increasing Hellholines as you go down. Cersei makes them even worse by giving a Mad Doctor/ Necromancer the run of them.
    • The Wall has ice cells, which are permanently at below freezing temperatures. Hope they let you keep your warm clothing.
    • While not seen, Casterly Rock apparently has cells too small for someone to lie down in.
  • The Labyrinth in The Death Gate Cycle. The Sartans lock the Patryns in a prison dimension, allegedly to teach them empathy, to rely on each other, and help each other through crises. However, it turns into a Hell, supposedly from the secret desire of the Sartans, who created the prison from magic (and sundered the whole world to boot), that the Patryns would just die.
  • In the Dred Chronicles, the lawless Prison Ship Perdition. The "neutral zone" where new prisoners are dropped off is the worst, as there's absolutely no law there. The gang-controlled areas might be better, depending on who the local warlord is and what rules they care to enforce. (There are no human guards, just robotic ones which prevent prisoners from doing anything too damaging to the ship itself but otherwise stay impartial.)

    Live Action Television 
  • Jack Bauer spent several years in a hellish Chinese prison between seasons of 24.
  • "The Attic" on Dollhouse.
  • The titular prison in the show Oz, despite a good part of it being an experiment to make it less of an hellhole.
  • Fox River State Penitentiary in Prison Break. Bizarrely, however, this prison has access to things like chem labs — which kind of makes a person wonder why riots aren't a hell of a lot worse than they already are.
    • The Penitenciaría Federal de Sona in the third season fits the trope even better. Guards only venture inside the prison in the event of major riots or to collect dead bodies.
  • Stargate SG-1 had an episode where SG-1 found themselves in one. Taken to its logical extreme as its purpose is to simulate hell itself.
  • Tom Paris and Harry Kim find themselves unrightfully thrown into one of these in Star Trek: Voyager's "The Chute" and almost kill each other during their time in there.
    • The Vidiian prison in "Faces." The prisoners are forced to do hard labour, and nearly all of them will eventually have their organs harvested by the Vidiians or be subjected to gruesome medical experiments.
    • Another episode had Tuvok tell a prisoner about the completely intolerable conditions of an alien prison. He was lying his ass off.
    • The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Hard Time" had an interesting example. O'Brien was thrown into a simulated prison cell for what he thought was twenty years. While O'Brien was never "physically" harmed, the treatment inside the simulation was between "horrific" and "execution would've been kinder". The floor was sand, the rations were handed out irregularly, a painful laser cleans the room, O'Brien was beaten by the guard, and by one throw away line we know there wasn't any "bathrooms facilities". It was no wonder the man was barely clinging to sanity.
  • The top-secret UNIT prison that Toshiko was thrown into for life in her origin-story flashback in Torchwood.
  • Walker, Texas Ranger infiltrated one of these, where the prisoners were being used in some kind of Fight Club-esque tournament in which the other guards bet on who'd win, all run by the Dirty Cop warden.
  • JAG: The Chinese military prison in "The Prisoner".
  • John Diggle has to break his ex-wife out of one in Russia in the second season of Arrow. It's full of murderers and psychopaths, and that's just the guards.
  • On Turn Selah Strong was held on the notorious British prison ship HMS Jersey (see Real Life section). After only a few months on the ship, he is a wreck and it's clear that he would not have survived much longer. The guards care so little about the prisoners that they routinely lose track of which ones are alive and which ones died.
  • The A-Team: The prison in "Pros and Cons." The warden encourages fighting in order to scout out candidates for the fight program. Those that do good enough are separated, trained, and forced to fight to death. Even for prisoners who can't fight it doesn't seem to be a great place. It's not a very safe prison (thanks to the afore-mentioned "encouraged fighting") plus the warden apparently thinks letting the prisoners get their hair cut is "coddling."

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Magitek-style setting of Rym (http://www.fur.com/~ollie/world6.html) shows a cluster of prisons called Fear, Agony and Grief. These are "prisons used by the Spiral [alien necromancers] to gather information on the suffering of mortal beings... staffed by the more intellectual Spiral priests, who go to great lengths to arrange for proper conditions, acquisition of prisoner groups, and the orchestration of the hideous little 'plays'..."
  • Parody RPG Hol (short for Human Occupied Landfill) exists as a combination Penal Colony and Landfill Beyond the Stars, resulting in a major Crapsack World. It has one of the highest body counts since Paranoia, and few players survive even their first encounter.
  • Scion has Durance Vile, a dimension that embodies this trope by taking on the features of the most notorious prisons in history. The sample adventure in the core book God deals with taking the avatars of the Titans there to be imprisoned as part of a plan to end the war between them and the Gods. Unfortunately, said Titans end up breaking free of their chains.

    Video Games 
  • Assassin's Creed III: Connor gets thrown into one complete with asshole guards and the occasional tortured scream, and an architecture that's somewhat reminescent of The Dark Knight Rises' pit. The Prison Ship HMS Jersey (see Real Life section) also plays a minor part in the game.
  • Batman: Arkham City: The eponymous city. It's a walled-off section of Gotham where the prisoners are just dumped into. Because of the collapse of both the original Arkham Asylum and Blackgate Penitentiary, both criminals and psychotic lunatics are thrown into it, no matter how minor their crimes may be (or simply if they protest too loudly or learn too much). The food drop-offs are scarce, the guards are abusive, and if you don't align yourself with a gang, you're probably going to be killed. Not that your chances of survival will improve much even then, considering the supervillains who run said gangs, to say nothing of Arkham City actually being built for the purpose of gathering all of Gotham's criminals in one place so that they can be exterminated en masse; the plot to secretly supply the gangs with weapons so that a mass break-out can be fabricated and used as an excuse for said massacre, along with simply not caring for the lives of those already doomed to slaughter, is what justifies the incredibly poor living conditions there. Oddly, if you choose the wrong option in the final Catwoman section, it's revealed that even without Batman stopping it, the extermination plan is a brutal failure, with a cured Joker leading a mass armed escape and putting Gotham to the torch.
  • Bioshock 2: We have Persephone Penal Colony, a place built by the opportunistic businessman Augustus Sinclair to house those who speak out against the hypocritical city leader Andrew Ryan. Suicide, violence and suffering were common, and many prisoners endured having to serve as test subjects.
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops:
    • Vorkuta, where a very bloody uprising leads to hundreds (if not thousands) of Prisoner and Guard deaths, and the lone escape of Cpt. Alex Mason.
    • For Mob of the Dead in Nazi Zombies, take Alcatraz, fill it with post apocalyptic decor, such as razor wire, sheets of metal, and the dead bodies of zombies coated in razor wire and perforated with wooden planks. This is essentially the entire setting.
    • In Modern Warfare 2, TF 141 breaks into one to kidnap the prisoner inside for information on Makarov. The entire gulag exists to punish one guy: Captain Price.
  • Dwarf Fortress: If the player wants it, then his Jails will be essentialy this trope.
  • Half-Life 2:
    • Nova Prospekt. Prisoners are kept in metal sarcophagi until the surgery block is ready to turn them into Stalkers.
    • That's the shiny new Combine-built wing; the original prison looks like it used to be (and depending on what the guards do for recreation, maybe still is) a more standard example of this trope.
  • Jagged Alliance 2: Tixa is a torture facility for political prisoners. Looking around will find blood covered shackles the basement is even worse.
  • Lost Odyssey:
    • The Lottery of Life story is about a juvenile prison like this, in a country where the people have been brought up for generations to believe that attempting to rehabilitate even petty criminals is pointless — once you commit any kind of crime, you're officially considered subhuman for the rest of your life. When the prison gets set on fire, the guards order Kaim (who's been hired as extra security during a rebellion) to abandon the prison, leaving the 'losers' inside to burn to death. He refuses to go along with it, knocks another guard unconsious and steals their keys, letting the most rebellious prisoner free first and giving him the keys, but not before telling him that they should return the following morning since if they tried escaping in their weakened condition, they'd only end up being captured and executed as a punishment as well as proving everyone that they're the untrustworthy losers that everyone thinks they are. After the prisoners prove themselves by saving numerous people in the fire and giving their lives for them, a more organized rebellion takes root in a few years and the most rebellious prisoner ends up becoming the country's new leader.
    • Kaim himself also ends up in one of these in the story They Live In Shells, where the titular "shells" are basically isolated cells without any windows or bars, making them pitch black from the inside. Being immortal, Kaim naturally makes out eventually. Most of his cellmates aren't as lucky, with the luckiest of them ending up burning out his retinas with sunlight after finally getting out of the complete darkness.
  • Mass Effect 2: Zaeed Massani states that Batarian prisons are hellholes where the only choices are "bash head open against wall" or "kill everyone between yourself and exit". The Purgatory prison ship also qualifies, given the inmates' poor living conditions and abuse from guards. It's bad enough that it's hard not to feel bad for the prisoners, even though killing 20 people and destroying a habitat is apparently at the low end of the crimes that can land you there.
  • Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes: Camp Omega (Which is basically the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camo) definitely qualifies.
  • Mortal Kombat: The franchise has a lot of arenas that are meant to serve as dungeons or prisons, and they all qualify, many of them also serving as places where torture and executions are carried out. The Dead Pool and the Evil Tower are both used like this in Mortal Kombat 9 (the first one used to hold Sonya after she's taken prisoner and the second used to hold Kitana, with Sheeva acting as a jailer in both cases; Sonya sarcastically asks her, "What is it with you Shokan and underground cesspools?"). Goro's Lair is also used for this purpose, although, as its name implies, it's also Goro's lair. (He's not always home, but it's always where a Boss Battle involving him is fought. It's implied given his intro that being put there is akin to being sentenced to death by being eaten alive.) The worst is likely the Dark Prison from Mortal Kombat Deception. The eight prisoners in the cells are randomly selected from the nonplayable characters in the Konquest Mode (it changes each time the arena appears) and if an opponent is knocked against a cell door, the occupant grabs and hold him or her for a chance for a free hit or combo. It also has a nasty Stage Fatality, with a spiked wall compressor that activates when the loser is knocked into it.
  • Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools Of Destruction: Zordoom Prison, run by Emperor Tachyon. People can be thrown in for slightest disobedience to his authority (and making fun of his Embarrassing First Name or stature actually warrants a death penalty), the pardons are extremely few and far between, the prison announcer mentions torture chambers and sensory deprivation tanks, the guards are numerous, sadistic, and armed to the teeth... overall, it's considered to be the worst prison in the universe.
  • The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay: The game takes place in the eponymous maximum security prison, housing the most notorious criminals in the galaxy. It's divided into three levels, each one more hellish than the previous: the first level is pretty much a "normal" prison (although madness-inducingly horrible and violent), the second is a series of tunnels infested by murderous alien bugs where the prisoners must mine for precious ores under terrible conditions, and in the last (saved only for the very worst of the worst) the prisoners are simply kept frozen in cryostasis for the rest of their lives (except for a two minutes long exercise period per day in an extremely well secured area).
  • The Legend of Dragoon: Hellena Prison. Despite its name, the prison itself is pretty decent in regards to living conditions…but it's run by a sadistic Fat Bastard named Fruegel, who not only excessively enjoys hurting and killing others (including his own men) but has a tendency to feed people to his pet monster, Jiango. Many of his subordinates seem to be cruel as well…but they look downright decent next to Fruegel.
  • Warcraft 3: The Dungeon maps feature charming little things like cages, torture racks and iron maidens. Not to mention the skeletons that are still chained up on the wall...

    Web Original 
  • The Chronicles of Taras: Red Dementia is set in a girl's prison camp in the middle of a pitch-black, sub-freezing desert where the Guards unleash mutated creatures called Rakes on the unwitting teenagers.

    Western Animation 
  • Subverted in Futurama with the Hal Institute for Criminally Insane Robots. It's not so bad for robots - it even manages to cure them - but when Fry spends time there in Insane In The Mainframe he completely loses his mind, largely because the doctors assume that if he's in there, he has to be a robot, all evidence to the contrary be damned.
  • In Justice League Mister Miracle spent his childhood in such a place called the X Pit which he somehow escaped.
  • Cape Doom in The Legend of Tarzan. Described by Colonel Staquait as a "Fate Worse Than Death".
  • In the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, Venger had the Prison of Agony, which was built over the crater of an active volcano. One of the big reasons it was escape-proof is because the winch to operate the drawbridge that was the only way in or out was so heavy, only the giant who guarded it could turn it. The giant actually wasn't a bad guy; Venger was blackmailing him by threatening to destroy his homeworld. (Apparently, he was in the same situation as the heroes. Naturally, when Venger sent the heroes to this awful place, the giant proved a valuable ally when they launched a mass-jailbreak and destroyed the whole facility.
  • In the animated version of Beetlejuice, after BJ is set up and arrested for "shoplifting" (as in, lifting the entire shop) he's sent to the rehabilitation of the Nether-Netherworld, which is Hell for someone like him; the place is a Sugar Bowl full of rainbow, sunshine, and sugar plums, where the warden and the guards dress like cupie dolls. Unable to escape from this horrid - to him - place, it gets worse; the rehabilitation works, and he becomes so polite and courteous that Lydia finds him more annoying than ever. Then, even worse; when Lydia decides to go there to give them a piece of her mind, she finds it just as inescapable for her that he did. It takes the veteran Mad Scientist Dr. Prankenstein - and something he had been saving for a special occasion to get BJ back to normal in time.
  • The titular prison in Superjail was designed to fit this trope. Not a day goes by without a thousand gallons of blood being spilled.

    Real Life 
  • The Confederate Andersonville POW camp during the U.S. Civil War. There were two reasons Andersonville was so bad; one, the utter lack of supplies on the Confederate side (they barely had enough to feed their own soldiers, let alone the other side's prisoners) is understandable. However, the other reason is that the commandant of the camp went beyond being an Obstructive Bureaucrat (which you might expect with limited supplies) and engaged in very high-level jerkassery—the prisoners weren't even allowed to build shelters or collect firewood (which they could've done easily given the abundant trees—Andersonville was in a forest), and were instead required to sleep in ditches covered by tarps; he also denied the prisoners access to fresh water (which was available for his men and one of the few things not in short supply) and gave them even fewer rations than was feasible given what he could supply—and then gave them no utensils to cook what few rations were available with. And these were only the most general problems.
    • To give an idea of how bad the treatment of prisoners was at Andersonville, the response of General Sherman and his troops upon seeing the condition of surviving PO Ws was to burn the south. In addition, the commander of Andersonville was the only Confederate officer executed for war crimes after the fighting was over.
    • The Union equivalent was Camp Douglas.
  • Nazi prisons and concentration camps, as one can very well imagine, are among the most notorious examples of this trope.
  • British prisons before Sir Robert Peel. You used to have to pay for everything and could often bribe the Gaolers to make life harder for other prisoners. Part of this was due to the fact that these payments (both official and bribes) where the only money the Gaolers made.

    London was infamous for Newgate until the end of the 19th century (though it was used to hold only the very worst prisoners for the 50 years). Numerous references to it used the phrase (or something very near to) "Hell on Earth" to describe it, Rioters on numerous occasions made it a point to burn the place down first off, and even official reports criticized it for harsh prisoner treatment and malnourishment. It was eventually demolished and replaced with the Central Criminal Court — a.k.a. the Old Bailey — in 1902.
  • The Stanford Prison Experiment appeared to demonstrate that any prison has the potential to turn into this: guards, if not held accountable for their actions, become abusive; prisoners, lacking other means of fighting back, become passive-aggressive and prone to riots. The results of the study are still controversial among researchers, however; with claims that flaws in the construction of the project encouraged much worse results than would be achived in a real-world setting.
  • Natan Sharansky says that when he was confined by the KGB , they were deliberately trying to wear down his spirit with endless amounts of Cold-Blooded Torture.
    • They didn't actually enjoy their work and used methods which showed little of the six fingered man type "craftsmanship" but much of brutality. Nor did they want information. All they wanted was for him to shut up and stop being embarrassing to the regime.
  • Soviet-era prisons, particularly the gulags, are described as this by many former inmates; most famously by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago. Of course, descriptions of prisons given by Solzhenitsyn from personal experience (rather than from latrine rumors) are nowhere near.
  • Cuba's prisons also count as they treat prisoners as punching bags. It was so terrible that the prisoners transferred to Atlanta prison did everything they can not to be sent back into Cuba.
  • North Korea's kwan-li-so system of labour camps and political prisons deserves a mention of its own. North Korean defectors have reported witnessing forced abortions, infanticide, several instances of rape, public executions, and testing of biological weapons on prisoners. Inmates face Cold-Blooded Torture as a daily fact of life simply For the Evulz.
  • Supermaxes. Just the solitary confinement can break prisoners.
    • To be fair, most supermax inmates are (theoretically at least) the absolute worst of the worst; e.g. serial killers, domestic terrorists, gang leaders, etc.; or those who have proven they pose a serious threat to others and can't be contained or dontrolled in a regular prison. Some of them even want to be there, as it's seen as the ultimate badge of honour in some criminal circles.
    • Back in the 19th century isolation was the standard means of imprisonment for all inmates outside work camps. Grand majority of the released prisoners were hopelessly demented.
      • This is actually were we get the word 'penitentiary.' The prevailing theory was that the best way to reform criminals was to keep them solitary and penitent so they could properly reflect on their crimes. Beyond solitary confinement, many early penitentiaries required complete silence from prisoners at all times—a policy that was strictly enforced.
  • Whether or not the American detention center at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base is one of this is a hotly contested issue.
  • Likewise, Sheriff Joe Arpaio's "Tent City". It gets pretty hot outside in the Arizona summer...
    • Arpaio has taken great pains to ensure that all Maricopa County detention facilities are this. Federal courts have ruled on at least two occasions that the conditions of MCSO jails violate inmates' civil rights. Of special note is the Madison Street Jail, which is advertised as the toughest jail in the United States.
  • While prison in any country in the Middle East and North Africa is no picnic, the Tazmamart prison camp in Morocco was noted as the most hellish prison in the world — at a time when the Soviet Gulags were still active. It was shut down in 1991.
  • Many if not most French prisons have gradually become these due to a frozen prison budget, lack of funding for new prisons, and a burgeoning prison population. Overcrowding is commonplace, there is a violent and endemic gang culture, and (hotly denied by both wardens and the government) much abuse of prisoners (by guards and fellow prisoners, inclusive of sex slavery). This goes a long way towards explaining the disdain and/or hostility many ordinary people have for the police, especially minorities.
  • Lecumberri Black Palace was this in 20th century Mexico.
  • In medieval times many castles tend to have horrible dungeons underneath them. Some prisons are just pits where the prisoners are dumped to, with no way out, or any source of light.
    • There were also the oubliette, which was as close to a literal example of this trope as possible. A tiny hole in the ground, with the only light coming from a barred window in the ceiling, where the prisoners were handed their food (when the guards felt like it). Not only was the space cramped and filthy beyond measure, there was also no place for the human waste to drain off.
  • Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. As stated by one of its visitors, Charles Dickens, "the slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain" there were "immeasurably worse than any torture of the body." It was originally supposed to be a more humane form of incarceration, but this high-minded goal eventually proved to be unattainable in the way that the planners intended. Today, it's a museum most of the year—except at night in late October, when it's one of the spookiest haunted houses in America.
  • The Abu Salim prison in Libya during the rule of Muammar Gaddafi. At one point, the prisoners rose up, demanding a decent standard of living. In response, the administrators marched out 1,270 inmates into the courtyard, where they were all shot and killed.
  • During The American Revolution, the Prison Ship HMS Jersey earned the nickname "Hell" for its inhumane conditions and high death rate.
  • While technically not a prison, it was meant to imprison them to keep them from rioting: The Slave Ships. Don't look into this unless you have a strong stomach. The journeys were long and up to hundreds of captured African men, women and children were packed into the bottom of the ship, all chained together, in uncomfortable all-fours positions. There was no place for them to use the restroom, if you can call it that since there weren't any, so they just had to let their waste out on the floors. They had to eat and sleep in that too if it didn't seep through the cracks between the wooden planks quick enough. Unsurprisingly, illness and death was abundant due to this, and dead Africans were simply tossed overboard, though the other Africans were sometimes allowed on deck to mourn. And if rations were running low, then they tied rocks to the weak, ill or old and tossed them overboard. And if the ride got too rocky, or if it got really cold, then they'd be vomiting on each other.
  • Before the 1960s and the Civil Rights Movement, which bought an higher involvement in the prison from Federal judges, prisons in the Deep South such as Parchman, Angola (nicknamed the "Alcatraz of the South") Cummins or Tucker among the most notorious, could be very difficult, with beatings, torture, rape and, in some cases, flat-out murder from the few guards or their trustee comvicts influcted on convicts submitted to forced work.
    • The Tucker and Cummins State Prison Farms were notorious for submitting convicts to electrical torture, rape and racket from "trusties", and they were rumors of murders on convicts who didn't obeyed the trusties; around 200 convicts were reported "shot while trying to escape" and a mass grave of 200 bodies was found nearby.
    • Angola is notable because it was amalgamated out of cotton plantations that had been using convict labor even before the state of Louisiana assumed control. Conditions remained unchanged through the 1930s, with no appreciable difference between being imprisoned at Angola and being enslaved on an antebellum plantation. Although there were repeated efforts to reform it, it remained infamously brutal through at least the 1970s.
  • Cayenne was a French Penal Colony who, until 1935, "welcomed" French convicts who were either persistant offenders or sentenced to hard labour (the remaining inmates returning in 1953); the climate, beating, malnutrition and the conditions in which was effectied the labour was such this prison was nicknamed the guillotine sèche, or "dry guillotine."
  • New Norfolk, in Tasmania, intended for convicts who, while in Australia, commited another offense, was so awful that, in 1835, when the Bishop Ullathorne went to assist convicts awaiting execution and that, during his stay, news of reprieve for some men came in, the one to be happy were the ones not to be commuted.
    • The Prison Ships taking them there were equally awful, with such an appalling death-rate that it became a scandal even in Victorian England. Parliament eventually solved the problem by only paying the owners of the chartered ships half up-front, and only paying the remaining half of the fare for prisoners who arrived alive.